Transparent assessment

Assessment practice is shifting away from comparing students to each other, or grade derived professor’s experiences and preferences.  Increasing, it is focused on comparing students to a clear learning outcome or goal for the assessment that everyone in the class knows in advance. The process of clearly articulating that goal and what we consider good evidence of it is called “Transparent Assessment.” The goal of all transparent assessment is to ensure students understand what they are trying to achieve or learn, so they can be more effective partners in that learning. Our Learning Charter has three learning charter educator commitments related our assessment:

  • Provide a clear indication of what is expected of students in a course or learning activity, and what students can do to be successful in achieving the expected learning outcomes as defined in the course outline
  • Ensure that assessments of learning are transparent, applied consistently and are congruent with learning outcomes
  • Design tools to both assess and enable student learning

5 techniques to make your assessments more transparent:

  1. Clearly articulate the specific skills and knowledge you want to see students demonstrate right before they start learning each class.  While it is important to put learning outcomes or objectives on a syllabus, student need our help connecting those outcomes to specific learning they are about to do.
  2. Double check your alignment between what you teach, your outcomes, and your assessments.  Are there some parts of your assessment task that are unrelated to your outcomes? Are you testing things you haven’t taught, like specific ways of thinking or presentation skills? Is too much of the assessment focused in one area relative to the time you spent teaching it? Does the test or assignment use the same language you used when you taught?
  3. Share or co-construct assessment criteria before student start work on assessments. Discuss them overtly and compare them to models and samples, until you are confident students know what “good” looks like, and how to achieve it.  It might cost you time in class, but it will save you a lot more time marking, and you’ll mark better work.  Think your students understand?  Ask what they are trying to demonstrate when they do the assessment.  If they tell you the parts of the task (what) instead of the purpose of the task (why, how), the assessment is still not transparent to them.
  4. Use assessment tools, like checklists and rubrics, that a student can interpret without understanding what you are thinking.  If the categories on your rubric are ratings like “good” or “well-developed” a student still has to guess what you mean.  Substitute descriptions that include specifics like: “The argument is specific and illustrated through examples. The essay explains why the argument matters.”
  5. Use students are resources to increase transparency.  Have them try small examples of the main skill you are looking to see, and then give each other feedback using the criteria.  It will ensure they read the criteria, and cause them to ask about criteria or assessment processes they don’t understand. You’ll ensure students get more early feedback without increasing your marking load.

Increased transparency is about everyone in the class working together to have students learn as much as possible and demonstrate that learning as effectively as possible. For professors, it means fewer questions challenges of grades and marking better student work.  When done well, it results in student better understanding the learning goals and being more invested in them.

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